It’s okay to recognize that pregnancy isn’t a fairytale existence and motherhood doesn’t come with an owner’s manual. Questions, concerns, and days of downtime come with the territory, but help is available.
They used to be called the “Baby Blues”.
The almost dismissive term has been used to describe the depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions that affect an estimated 20% of women during pregnancy or in the postpartum period up to a year after giving birth. While awareness of maternal mental health concerns has grown, advocates and parents say much more needs to be done to provide ways for women to seek help and not face embarrassment or isolation.
“We have a health care system that is simply not well set up to manage the totality of what happens when someone has a baby,” said Sarah Bloomquist, an Ozaukee County resident and co-founder of the Moms Mental Health Initiative (MMHI). The non-profit organization helps mothers cope with mood and anxiety disorders by sharing information, connecting them to resources and providing support. “When we went through it ourselves, I mean I experienced it – trying to find the right help was so hard. We really felt there was a gap in care for women who had a baby and were struggling with anxiety or depression.”
Nicole Slavin of Motherhood for Good, a support network for mothers in the Green Bay area that also encourages civic education and participation, agrees.
“It’s so hard to talk about my own postpartum experience,” she said. “Your brain is already overloaded. There are already many things for which you are responsible. You are absolutely mentally, physically, drained. You are exhausted. There is no extra bandwidth. But beyond that, you need to identify what’s wrong enough to say, ‘I need help.’
One evidence-based policy that Wisconsin could pass to help new mothers is to expand Medicaid coverage so that vital care doesn’t become unaffordable and unattainable. BadgerCare coverage for new mothers generally expires 60 days after giving birth, leaving a wide uncovered window for life-threatening complications that include infections, bleeding, eclampsia, hypertension and cardiovascular problems, as well as mental health episodes.
Extending the period that women are covered by Medicaid can help keep women healthy. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it can also save lives.
But for more than a decade, the Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature have refused to accept additional federal funding that would allow Medicaid – known in Wisconsin as BadgerCare – to cover more families and more conditions. The move, linked to continued resentment over the passing of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, meant the state lost billions of dollars. Governor Tony Evers said expanding BadgerCare from this budget would save the state $1.6 billion over the next two years.
For postpartum women, suicide and drug overdoses are the leading causes of death – and experts say they are 100% preventable.
“It’s so disturbing and terrifying to realize that these women are dying from suicide and overdoses and often beyond the typical two to three months postpartum,” Bloomquist said. “That will happen in six to nine months. And in Wisconsin, it’s an extreme health crisis.”
The Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance – a national advocacy and support group – says that other forms of mental health problems include obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder (which can include psychotic symptoms) and use disorders of substances. There is an approximately equal split between the number of women who begin pregnancy with symptoms, develop them during pregnancy, and develop them after delivery.
Bloomquist said physicians and other providers must be proactive in addressing mental health issues with their patients, and women should seek to talk with their physicians, not simply wait and hope that the physician will ask them about it.
Even when women ask for help, scarce resources can sometimes require a long wait to visit counselors, case managers and other providers. This makes peer support another critical component.
“Sometimes it’s hard,” Duffy said. “And I’m very lucky. I had a friend who, just before I gave birth, actually told me ‘it’s okay if you don’t have that euphoric moment right away’. If you feel overwhelmed or whatever you feel is fine, any of your feelings are valid and it’s not a fairy tale all the time.’ That was very helpful. We need more of this.”
Nicole Slavin and Kate Duffy of Motherhood for Good and Sarah Bloomquist of the Moms Mental Health Initiative joined UpNorthNews Radio for a recent interview on maternal mental health. listen hereacross civic media radio network website. You can also subscribe to UpNorthNews Radio as a podcast through Litter, Spotifyand other major platforms.
UpNorthNews Radio with Pat Kreitlow airs weekdays from 6am to 8am and a live video of the show can be found at our facebook page.